THERE are fears for the future of Pizza Express, which has an outlet in Cathedral Square, ahead of crunch talks with creditors over the restaurant group's soaring debts.

But sources close to the restaurant chain has stressed it is not on the brink of collapse.

The chain has hired financial advisers at corporate finance firm Houlihan Lokey to prepare for debt talks with creditors amid difficult trading conditions for casual dining chains in the UK.

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Bloomberg reported that advisers will sit down with creditors in a bid to organise the company's debts, which currently stand at £665 million.

Separately, a group of secured bondholders for the business have also started working with advisory firm Perella Weinberg Partners in relation to the talks, according to the report.

Pizza Express declined to comment.

Sources close to the company told the Press Association news agency it is "not a business that is contemplating a Company Voluntary Agreement or close to collapse".

It is understood that the talks with creditors are intended to look at a possible reorganisation of its large debts.

The company, which was bought by Chinese private equity firm Hony Capital in 2014, has to pay the first instalment of its repayments, worth £465 million in secured bonds, by August 2021.

Its next repayment for £200 million in unsecured notes is due to be repaid by the following year.

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An industry source told PA that these talks with creditors are "not unusual", but "could mean that covenants have been broken over its debt repayment".

Debt covenants are terms set out between creditors and companies which typically state limits or financial thresholds which the company is not allowed to breach. This could involve certain sales or profit expectations.

In the first half of 2019, Pizza Express reported a 0.2 per cent rise in like-for-like sales amid difficult trading conditions.

The company also posted 7.7 per cent decline in underlying earnings to £32.4 million for the period, with the slump blamed on rising costs.

The company, which employs 14,000 people nationally, was founded in 1965.